In the early 1960’s a GP and the head of medicine at the University of Oklahoma were sharing a beer when the GP told the head of medicine that heart disease seemed much less prevalent in the town of Roseto than in its neighbour Bangor. This set in motion some remarkable research.
Roseto was a town of 1600 Italian-Americans. Every home in the town had three generations living in it and the sense of community was very tight.
Teams of medical researchers spent time in Roseto trying to determine why the rate of heart attack was so much lower than nearby Bangor. Was it diet? No, Rosetans shared a typical American diet. Was it genes? No. other Italian communities had heart attack rates similar to the national average? Was it healthy habits? No. Rosetans smoked as much as people in neighbouring towns and exercised as little as people in neighbouring towns, and met the national average for obesity and high blood pressure. Was it the physical environment? No, there was no significant difference between Roseto and neighbouring towns. Was it a short term statistical anomaly? No, the trend held up over a fifty year study.
In the end health officials tracked the secret to good health in Roseto – ready for it: close sense of community, very strong bonds of family and friendship. The head of the research team wrote in his report: “In terms of preventing heart disease, it’s just possible that morale is more important than jogging or not eating butter.”
Interestingly, the initial research team predicted that the health benefits would diminish as successive generations ‘Americanised’ and lost their tight knit sense of community. A fifty year study found their prediction to be accurate.
Source: research reported in “The Roseto Effect: A 50-Year Comparison of Mortality Rates”, American Journal of Public Health, 1992